Pain And Memory

I've been very, very lucky throughout my life.  I haven't (knock on wood) experienced any major injuries, and the only bone I've broken has been my little toe.  It did hurt, but it wasn't life-changing.  Other than that, I've had aches and pains, but I wouldn't say that I've ever truly suffered. As a result, I've been woefully unprepared for real pain.  And I finally had a taste of it this weekend. I'm still in the process of finding out what the issue is; and I am now living in terror of repeating the episode I suffered through this past Saturday night.  All I know is that I had never imagined that pain could be so intense without causing someone to pass out.  I literally thought I was dying for an hour or so; after that, I didn't care if I was.  I was in utter agony...I felt like someone was stabbing his way out of my ribcage and back.   Yes, I should have called 911...but when you are alone in the middle of the night, in excruciating pain, calling 911 makes everything so real.  I kept trying to tell myself that I just had the worst case of heartburn of all time, because I'd rather suffer alone and convince myself that nothing was really wrong, and that whatever was going on would resolve on its own.  I was an idiot; if you are reading this and ever wake up in blinding pain, CALL AN AMBULANCE.

After 8 hours of this, the pain slowly began to ebb.  I passed out into my sweat-soaked pillow and prayed to God that (a) I would live, and (b) I would never have to feel this way again in my life.  Sadly, I was willing to take b over a.  I couldn't imagine ever going through that again.  Even now, thinking about it, I just started sweating with leftover fear.

The point of this blog isn't to bitch and moan about my night of misery...well, maybe a little.  Give me a break, I'm still having flashbacks of that night.  But aside from that, I finally "get" something that has frustrated me for years: I understand our forgiving mental state when it comes to severe pain.  Oh, I understood this in theory, but it's quite different when it happens to you.  For years, I have seen people who can barely function due to their pain making significant strides toward living a comfortable life.  And then, as I happily bring up how far they have come, I get that blank look and a shrug.  "Yeah, I guess I feel better than I used to, but my pain wasn't all that bad in the first place."

I will point out that on their first visit, they were a 10/10 pain-wise.  Now, they are a 3/10.   And I always get a look of confusion.  "Oh yeah...I guess I was pretty bad back then.  I just couldn't really remember..."

When I first started out in practice, I used to get slightly annoyed over this, thinking that this seemed pretty damned ungrateful.  Not necessarily toward me, but just in general; if you are sick, and then become well, shouldn't you be happy about it?  If you're not, well, maybe you're just a negative person who can't appreciate being healthy.  That was how I saw it.

Then, as time went on, I realized that this attitude was more of a disconnect of perception than anything else.  Pain is so subjective, it is impossible to quantify it accurately, and more impossible still to recreate the experience emotionally after it is over.  Pain ends, you forget.  You can remember that it was awful, that it was sharp/stabbing/achy...but to really remember it you have to bring yourself back to a place of physical experience, and you simply can't do that.  Or maybe you can, but why would you want to?

So, tonight, I am sitting in my office, still in fear.  My mid-back is aching, and I'm terrified that this is a precursor to another episode.  I remember the pain and the fear, but try as I might I can't really remember just how badly I felt the other night.  It's hazy, like a dream.  A mercy, I suppose...and a testament to the flexibility of perception.

P.S.  The photo with this blog has nothing to do with pain.  It's my cat, Niko.  I didn't feel like searching for a picture of someone in pain, because I'm lazy.  Also, he followed me around all night when I thought I was dying, so he's earned a place in tonight's blog!